April 26, 2011
A study released last week concluded that New Yorkers lack a robust understanding of the Constitution. Also buried in the paper: a damning condemnation of a recent decision by state officials that has gone relatively unnoticed.
The study surveyed adult New Yorkers on their knowledge of the basic structure of government. The authors Eric Lane, a professor at Hofstra University, and Meg Barnette of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, conclude that few New Yorkers know “even a little about the Constitution.”
They connect the poor showing to New York’s response to the federal No Child Left Behind law, arguing that the focus on math and English has hurt students’ Social Studies knowledge.
And they highlight a recent decision by the state Board of Regents to cancel an annual Social Studies test for fourth- and eighth-graders as the latest symptom of that disregard, which they dramatically term an “abandonment of history”:
For years New York required social studies assessment tests for its fourth and eighth grade students. The eighth grade assessment consisted mostly of history questions, while the fourth grade assessment tested skills such as graph reading. Overall, New Yorkers did not perform well on those tests, and New York City students performed horribly…As an explanation for this problematic showing, school officials said that they pay little attention to fourth and eighth grade social studies assessment tests “because they are not among the criteria used to determine if schools are performing adequately, either under state regulations or the federal No Child Left Behind law.”41 Proving that point, in the summer of 2010 the Board of Regents addressed the problem of low performance by ending the fourth and eighth grade social stud- ies assessment requirement, assuring, in the words of one education expert, the abandonment of history, and any hope for improvement in civic literacy at all.
The decision to cancel the test, made in June 2010, received little coverage at the time. In a memo explaining the move, the Board of Regents argued that the test was a casualty of budget deficits.